One of the joys of blogging is that I get to write about remarkable artists and cultural events that fly below the radar of mainstream media. However, on occasion, exceptions will be made, and there’s no better case for it than a concert played last night by Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presented Hamelin at one of my favorite halls in Philadelphia, the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, to a packed and enthusiastic crowd. Even though a review will no doubt appear in the Inquirer, I feel it’s my duty as a pianist to opine about one of the best concerts of the season, or of any season, for that matter.
Hamelin began with Alban Berg’s one-movement B minor Sonata, in an interpretation that was clean and transparent — more delicate angles than curves, more Capriccio than Salome. This was simply the warm-up act to an astonishing offering of the Liszt B minor Sonata. Hamelin’s speed, power and virtuosity gave this piece what it deserves and so rarely, by necessity, can get –- a breathtaking sense of direction that made one forget that bar lines had ever been invented. I have never heard the difficult parts of this piece played so convincingly and so fast. As a result, the scope of this long one-movement Sonata, one of the most important in the piano repertoire, was clear, fresh, and compelling.
The second half of the program began with four of the virtuosic Preludes from Debussy’s second volume. In these pieces, as well as those that ended the program, a selection of Hamelin’s own etudes, the pianist exploited the full range, color, and technical capacity of the Steinway at his command. His encore, the Haydn C Major Fantasy, was humorous and brilliant –- you’ve never heard Haydn like this, on the verge of full orchestral bombast yet winking with Charlie Chaplin-like pratfalls.
I take my hat off to Marc Andre-Hamelin. You’ve inspired me to give up blogging so I can practice more — almost!